This 1800ha marine reserve encloses a typical slice of the north Taranaki coastline, as well as the possibly unique sponge gardens of Pariokariwa reef.
The diversity of species encrusting the reef is amongst the highest recorded anywhere in New Zealand and ranks highly internationally.
In pre-European times this area was known to Ngāti Tama as a rich fishing ground, and several areas were excluded from the marine reserve to allow for customary as well as recreational fishing.
The main underwater feature of Parininihi Marine Reserve is Pariokariwa Reef, which extends north from Pariokariwa Point towards the reserve’s seaward boundary and is surrounded by fine sediment and mud.
Most of the reef lies in the southwest of the reserve, at between five to 23 metres depth. Submerged parts of the reef rise up to 9 metres from the seafloor and form a network of small caves, overhangs, canyons and pinnacles. These are encrusted with large bryozoan (Celleporaria agglutinans) colonies and a diverse, colourful assemblage of sponges, as well as hydroids, anemones and soft corals.
The area is home to a variety of fish species, large rock lobster populations and a colourful tangle of rare and exotic sponges that spread across the reefs of the area.
Diving is allowed within the reserve, and the sponge gardens are well worth a look. However, sea conditions are often rough and there can be very poor visibility.
A good view of the reserve area can be gained from the cliffs above the reserve on the Whitecliffs Walkway.